A most essential question

What convergence is there between the journey of the ascetic Tibetan yogi Milarepa and that of the little-known great French mystic of the Seventeenth Century, Madame Guyon ? between Ramana Maharshi and the famous sufi Al-Hallaj ? What is the common denominator between these extraordinary beings who, in such apparently dissimilar ways, climbed the rungs leading to the ultimate realization ? Is it not a question of the greatest importance, to conjecture about what is essential and what is of incidental value, about what is truly the core of a practice and what relates to a cultural context and epoch ?

Ajahn Sumedho : The Sound of Silence – Nada –

In the silence of those nights he began to perceive the ever-present inner sound, seemingly beginningless and endless, and he soon found that he was able to discern it throughout the day and in many circumstances, whether quiet or busy. He also realized that he had indeed noticed it once before in his life, when he had been on shore leave from the U.S. Navy in the late ’50s and, during a walk in the hills, his mind had opened into a state of extreme clarity. He remembered that as a wonderfully pure and peaceful state, and he recalled that the sound had been very loud then.

So those positive associations encouraged him to experiment and see if it might be a useful meditation object. It also seemed to be an ideal symbol, in the conditioned world of the senses, of those qualities ol mind that transcend the sense realm: not subject to personal will, ever present but only noticed if attended to: apparently beginningless and endless, formless to some degree, and spatially unlocated.
When he first taught this method to the Sangha at Chithurst that winter, he referred to it as “the sound of silence” and the name stuck. Later, as he began to teach the method on retreats for the lay community, he began to hear about its use from people experienced in Hindu and Sikh meditation practices. In these traditions, he found out, this concentration on the inner sound was known as nada yoga, or “the yoga of inner light and sound.” It also turned out that books had been written on the subject, commentaries in English as well as ancient scriptural treatises, notably the Way of Inner Vigilance by Salim Michael (published by Signet).

In 1991, when Ajahn Sumedho taught the sound of silence as a method on a retreat at a Chinese monastery in the United States, one of the participants was moved to comment, “I think you have stumbled on the Shunrangamaa samadhi. There is a meditation on hearing that is described in that sutra. and the practice you have been teaching us seems to match it perfectly.”
Seeing that it was a practice that was very accessible to many people, and as his own explorations of it deepened over the years, Ajahn Sumedho has continued to develop it as a central method of meditation, ranking alongside such classical forms of practice as, “mindfulness of breathing” and “investigation of the body.” The Buddha’s encouragement for his students was to use skillful means that are effective in freeing the heart. Since this form of meditation seems to be very supportive for that, despite not being included in lists of meditation practices in the Pali Canon or anthologies such as the Visuddhimagga, it seems wholly appropriate to give it its due. For surely it is the freedom of the heart that is the purpose of all the practices—and that freedom is the final arbiter of what is useful and therefore good.

Ajahn Sumedho : The Sound Of Silence

Ian Stevenson : Reincarnation Evidence

Ian Stevenson (1918- 2007)

 Was a scientific. traveled extensively over a period of 40 years to investigate 3,000 childhood cases that suggested to him the possibility of past lives. His work was conducted with appropriate scientific rigor.

Swami Ramdas : THUS SPEAKS RAMDAS

Yoga: Perfect Union with God

Yoga is the path by traversing which the individual soul realizes its real nature of immortality, omnipresence, peace, and bliss. The essential condition for the attainment of this supreme goal is the complete absence of the ego-sense. Self-control and self-discipline are the means. Yoga also signifies union with and absorption in the immortal Reality.

A steady, persevering, and concentrated effort and struggle alone can lead the aspirant to the realization of the Godhead. So long as man is hankering after the pleasures of the senses, his progress on the path is slow and erratic. He must be undaunted in his endeavor and determined in his purpose. He must leave no stone unturned to subdue and eventually eradicate the impure passions of his heart and mind. A purified and enlightened bud-dhi can alone entitle the sadhaha to enter the kingdom of eternity.

Yoga is not a thing to be merely talked about, read in books, and heard through others. Yoga is for practice in life. Yoga which does not soften the heart and fill it with the pure emotion of love, compassion, and peace is not worth the name. Real concentration of mind and meditation of God in the chamber of his heart does bring about an enormous change in the devotee. His transformed life becomes a beacon light for others. Through thought, word, and deed he pours out love and bliss upon all. If not to live such a life, what use is there for a man to speak of and wish to hear of yoga ?

Work is Worship When It is Done Selflessly

Ramdas does not want anyone to lead only a contemplative life. One must also serve one’s fellow beings in a selfless spirit. “Love thy neighbor as thyself does not mean that love should only be felt in the heart. It must be shown also in action, in the form of relieving distress and rendering help in all possible ways. To serve man is to serve God. In karma yoga, work is done as worship. Then alone it gives joy. It should be clone as perfectly as possible, with great care and love and never in a slipshod, clumsy, irregular, or half-hearted way. The inner beauty must reveal itself in outer conduct.

Do not renounce work but divinize work by doing it in full submission to the will of God. Work is worship when it is clone selflessly in a spirit of dedication to God. Do not run away from the work given to you by the Divine. Do it without the ego-sense. Become willing instruments in the hands of the Divine and cheerfully do the work, without any thought of the fruits. Work, and be a detached witness of the work.

{Thus Speaks Ramdas, paragraphs 38-39

Simone Weil : Intimations of Christianity

We must force this insatiable desire within us, which is always oriented towards outward things and has its domain in an imaginary future, to close in on itself and bring its main thrust round to the present.

Simone Weil

Apart from its primary goal (which is to succeed in recognizing the Source whence he originally emerged and into which he shall return at the time of his death), meditation also helps the seeker to live in the present.

During his attempts to remain conscious and awake within, he cannot fail to notice that when he manages to maintain the feeling of himself in a “continual now,” he leaves time and by doing so starts to be liberated from the regrets and pain of the past, as well as from his worries about the future, and that as soon as he loses this unusual feeling of himself (that is the feeling of “being” in a “continual now”), the upset and regret of the past, as well as torment about the future immediately regain the upper hand; he is then once again dragged into the movement of implacable time, into a future without respite. In this way, he finds himself dissipated in extremely fragmented inner states where, from one instant to another, he is never the same !

Edward Salim Michael : The fruits of the way to awakening

The Tibetan Book of the Dead – the Bardo Thodol

Meditation and the after death state.

As he is ordinarily, the human being does not realize to what extent, or in what manner, life and death are closely linked. During his whole lifetime, it never occurs to him that, at each moment that passes by, he is in the process of dying. And when the ultimate moment arrives when he has to leave his body, at the beginning — as stated in various mystical treatise — he does not know that he is dead. Habit being very strong, he believes that he still inhabits his physical body.It happens so often, particularly in the West where the intellect dominates, one meets seekers who entertain the vague hope that, because they have understood intellectually what a spiritual teaching consists of, all will be well for them when they leave this world and that they will be able, without doubt, to break the circle of births and deaths and thus attain liberation.

In order to understand better what happens at the critical moment of death, when the future destiny of the deceased is at stake, it is necessary to draw a parallel between certain stages of the after-death state, as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and what occurs during meditation.The citations in the following paragraphs are quoted from the English edition translated by W.Y. Evans-Wentz and lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup (the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Oxford University Press).

At the very beginning of each one of his meditation sitting, for a very short instant, the aspirant may touch a most particular state of consciousness which gives him the impression of being simple emptiness only, but is, in reality, a state of immaculate consciousness of the highest subtlety and transparency. This state of consciousness which is so unusual and difficult to apprehend, only lasts for two or three seconds at first before being replaced by another state which, although not being his customary state of being, is, nevertheless, no more the same as what he experienced in himself initially.Failing to understand and appreciate the real value of this state of consciousness— which is so alien to him that, at first sight, it gives him the impression of being a vacuum without importance—, the seeker cannot, due to ignorance and lack of practice, find the strength to stay in it.  He loses it very quickly and despite his efforts to continue to meditate, he descends to another state of consciousness which is not what he experienced in the beginning.The same phenomenon — but on an entirely different scale — arises in a human being when he leaves his body, a phenomenon of which the implications prove decisive for his future. 

In other words, as explained in the Bardo Thodol (the Tibetan Book of the Dead), immediately after leaving this world, the deceased is confronted with the Supreme Consciousness in Its original purity. But, failing to apprehend It, he descends to lower and lower levels in himself until he becomes lost in a mental world which manifests itself in the form of a most impressive panorama, spreading out in front of his mind in such a spectacular way that, because of ignorance and lack of discernment, he takes it for being a reality.To be able to remain in this primordial state — which the Bardo Thodol calls either “Clear Light” or “Clear Consciousness” — represents a feat totally out of the ordinary, which can only be the result of long and persistent training, in the form of intense meditation practice as well as other concentration exercises carried out both at home and in outside active life.

It is precisely with the help of specific concentration exercises (such as those given in several of my books) which force the aspirant to remain intensely present during their execution that he can start to experience during his daily life moments of very particular self-awareness which come to him suddenly after varying lengths of time of inner absences. These moments of self-awareness are accompanied by the beginning of an inner awakening which he should try, with all his might, to prolong so that the day will eventually come when he will no longer lose it. At these moments, which will determine what his future will be, the seeker should realize that, in the same way he is faced throughout his life with choices to be made in order to be able to remain in this state of being and of consciousness which is not habitual to him, after death all incarnate beings will find themselves in a situation where decisive choices will be demanded of them.

In this regard, the Tibetan Book of the Dead continuously emphasizes that the deceased, after leaving his earthly body, will be faced, on several occasions, with two lights or two colors between which he must choose. Unfortunately, owing to ignorance and weakness, he will not be able to hold himself from turning toward that which is the duller.  Thus, unless he has devoted himself to a relentless spiritual practice during his life, he will begin to descend helplessly to lower and lower levels of being and of consciousness in himself, without being able to realize what is happening to him.

Edward Salim Michael

Edward Salim Michael : When a human being starts to pray

In a similar way, if, during his meditation sessions, the seeker manages to be concentrated to the point that nothing exists for him other than the object of his concentration, the effacing of his ordinary individuality will be accomplished by itself without his even realizing what is happening to him. He will then be able to have a foretaste, at least to some degree, of quite another state of being which will transport him into ordinarily unknown dimensions.

Thus, when, at one of the most dramatic moments of his life, a human being starts to pray, the more his prayer is sincere and intense, the more his ordinary self gives way within him – without his even being aware of what is happening in his being.

Edward Salim MichaelTo Awaken, a matter of life and death chap 10

Ta-hui’s prayer which is recited daily in Zen monasteries.

My only prayer is to be firm in my determination to give myself completely to the Buddha’sWay, so that no doubts arise however long the road seems to be.

To be light and easy in the four parts of my body, to be strong and undismayed in body and in mind.
To drive out both depressed feelings and distractions. To be free from calamity, misfortune, harmful influences and obstructions. Not to seek the Truth outside of myself, so I may instantly enter the right way.

To be unattached to all thoughts, that I may reach the perfectly clear bright mind of Prajna Wisdom and have immediate enlightenment on the great matter of birth and death.
Thereby I receive the transmission of the deep wisdom of the Buddhas to save all sentient beings who suffer in the round of birth and death.
My further prayer is not to be extremely ill or to suffer at the time of departure. To know its coming seven days ahead so that I may quiet the mind to abandon the body and be unattached to all things at the last moment, wherein I return to the Original Mind in the realm of no birth and no death, and merge into the whole universe to manifest as all things in their true nature and, with the great wisdom of the Buddhas, to awaken all beings to the Buddha Mind.

Ta-hui’s prayer
which is recited daily in Zen monasteries.

I offer this to all Buddhas and bodhisattva-mahasattvas of the past, present and future, in the ten quarters and to the Maha Prajnaparamita.

Ayya Khema (video) : Loving- Kindness Meditation

Please put the attention on the breath for just a moment to become centred.

Take a look into your heart and see whether there is any worry, fear, grief, dislike, resentment, rejection, uneasiness, anxiety. If you find any of those, let them float away like the black clouds that they are…

Then let warmth and friendship arise in your heart for yourself, realizing that you have to be your own best friend. Surround yourself with loving thoughts for yourself and a feeling of contentment within you…

Now surround the person nearest to you in the room with loving thoughts and fill that person with peace and wish for that person’s happiness…

Now surround everyone here with loving thoughts…

Let the feeling of peacefulness extend to everyone here, and think of yourself as everyone’s good friend…

Think of your parents, whether they are still alive or not. Surround them with love. Fill them with peace and gratitude for what they have done for you, be their good friend…

Think of those people who are nearest and dearest to you. Embrace them with love, fill them with peace as a gift from you, without expecting them to return it to you…

Think of your friends. Open up your heart to them, to show them your friendship, your concern, your love, giving it to them without expecting anything in return…

Think of your neighbours who live near you, the people you meet at work, on the street, in the shops, make them all your friends; let them enter into your heart without any reservation. Show them love… .

Think of anyone for whom you have dislike or with whom you may have had an argument, who has made difficulties for you, whom you do not consider your friend. Think of that person with gratitude, as your teacher, teaching you about your own reactions. Let your heart go out to that person because he or she too has difficulties. Forgive and forget. Make him or her your friend…

Think of all those people whose lives are far more difficult than ours, who may be sick, in hospital, who may be in prison, in .an orphanage or in war-torn countries, hungry, crippled, blind, without friends or shelter, never able to hear the Dhamma. Open up your heart to all of them. Make them all your friends, show them love, wish them happiness…

Put your attention back on yourself. Feel contentment arising in you from making right effort, happiness which comes from loving and joy which comes from giving. Become aware of these feelings, experience the warmth they create in and around you…

May all beings be happy.

Ayya Khema

 

Tenzin Palmo : We like dreaming

The thing is we say we want to be enlightened, but we don’t really. Only bits of us want to be enlightened. The ego which thinks how nice, comfortable and pleasant it would be. But to really drop everything and go for it! We could do it in a moment but we don’t do it.

And the reason is we are too lazy. We are stopped by fear and lethargy – the great inertia of the mind. The practice is there. Anyone on the Buddhist path certainly knows these things.

So how is it we’re not enlightened? We have no one to blame but ourselves. This is why we stay in Samsara because we always find excuses. Instead we should wake ourselves up. The whole Buddhist path is about waking up. Yet the desire to keep sleeping is so strong. However much we say we will awake in order to help all sentient beings we don’t really want to. We like dreaming.

TENZIN PALMO A cave in the snow p. 172

“If, by using certain exercises, the aspirant manages really to see what his eyes are looking at and really to hear what his ears are listening to, he will observe that a strange and silent inner presence, as well as consciousness of himself which is most unusual for him, will begin to manifest itself within him.

However, he will discover that he cannot, or rather, he does not want to maintain this state of consciousness which was hitherto unknown to him, because to maintain this consciousness of himself involves awakening; yet, paradoxically, despite everything he may think, he does not wish to awaken ! To awaken and, above all, to remain awake require a special and persistent effort at the beginning which one does not like to make. One prefers to sleep peacefully in oneself and daydream – which does not entail any price to pay – rather than going to the effort required for this essential awakening. Yet, without this awakening, there can be no possibility of objective and real choice for the human being. He will always be manipulated by the impulses of his mundane self and external forces, without being capable of realizing in what way he is at their mercy.”

Edward Salim Michael : Spiritual practice and inner awakening chap 10